Reapers and Growth and Form, 1949/1951

The etchings Variations on the theme of Reaper were made while Hamilton was studying at the Slade in 1949, and exhibited the following year at the London gallery Gimpel Fils. Initiating a career-long dedication to technical experimentation in print-making, Hamilton used a variety of intaglio techniques in the series, including colour etching. The Reapers also announce his interest in the fusion of diagrammatic and depictive images. The ploughing instrument, the first of many machines that drew his attention, operated at the exact interface of the industrial and organic worlds.

This meeting of the natural and mechanical also underlay the exhibition Growth and Form, organised by Hamilton at the ICA for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and reconstructed for the first time in Room 1. Inspired by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s book On Growth and Form 1917, Hamilton brought together a range of organic and scientific materials, demonstrations, and photographs, making use of the most up-to-date imaging technologies. One of the ‘benefits’ of the exhibition, Hamilton wrote, was ‘the influence it may have upon design trends’. By using grid-based structures to look at form in nature, the exhibition challenged the apparent opposition between geometric and organic approaches to contemporary architecture and design.

With its strange jumps of scale, Hamilton’s exhibition was infused with a Surrealist sensibility. Another link to Surrealism was the anomalous portrait photograph listed simply as ‘Head’ and provided courtesy of Jean Painlevé, an important Surrealist filmmaker.

Reconstruction led by Victoria Walsh with Elena Cripp